Will Bax, Grosvenor’s Director of Placemaking, tells us about his vision for the London estate
Q: What do you think the independent brands within the estate’s various retail spaces add to Mayfair and Belgravia?
A: Independent retailers are an important point of difference for us, and make the experience of shopping in those streets more unique than anywhere else in London. But there is another agenda with regards to how we choose the retailers that come to the estate. Run and Become, the running shoe specialist on Eccleston Street, is a good example of that: a fairly niche retailer with an interesting philosophy. Its founders want to have an impact on the neighbourhood in which they operate, and that opens up the potential for us to have a more collaborative relationship with the business.
We already have this kind of relationship with Daylesford on Pimlico Road. This year we built a parklet outside its premises for the community to enjoy. It was a fun project, slightly whimsical perhaps, but it says a lot about Daylesford’s commitment to the area and the vision its owners share with Grosvenor. These are the kind of retailers we love working with, because there’s more there than just a business proposition.
Q: How intrinsic is technology to Grosvenor’s placemaking strategy?
A: Digital is enhancing the experience of places in a way that it never has before, but there is also a much deeper customer proposition to be delivered through the smart use of new technologies. We’re looking at how we can empower Mayfair and Belgravia digitally, so they become the best-performing areas in London in terms of connectivity.
For example, we would like super-fast broadband to be a standard feature for all of our buildings. We want our public spaces to be Wi-Fi-enabled, so people can work inside and outside. We also want to work with our retailers to ensure they are maximising digital opportunities. And we are looking to ensure that the way we communicate with our customers, and what we offer them in terms of technology, makes their relationship with us as easy as it can be.
Finally, we’re aiming to use technology to provide us with the information we need to make important strategic decisions. For example, tracking the way people move around the estate on foot, air quality, or the energy performance of particular buildings. If you can access this kind of information, you can start making changes that improve occupiers’ and visitors’ experiences.
Q: How did you come to work for Grosvenor?
A: I came to Grosvenor as a mature graduate when I was 26. In my final year of university, I did what all my friends were doing, which was an internship with an investment bank. I came away feeling that there must be an alternative path to one so fixated on making money, regardless of the cost or consequences, and that led to me wanting to do something very different. So I went into politics and ended up working as a researcher on environment and international development issues.
At that time, the political world was greatly influenced by the famous culture of spin. The substance of policy seemed to be far less important than the way things were communicated. After a couple of years I decided I could have a more positive impact on the world working in the private sector. So I went back to university and did a master’s degree in real estate finance.
I soon came across Grosvenor, which seemed like a really interesting business that was very relevant to the world. I started out as an Investment Manager on the London estate, and later went into our fund management business, where I spent five years living in Paris. I came back to London in 2011 to manage the Mayfair estate, which I did for a couple of happy years before becoming Director of our London portfolio. When the structure of the London team changed, I assumed my current role as Director of Placemaking.
Q: What do you like to do in your spare time?
A: I have three kids, so they are my principal hobby! I have three-year-old and five-year-old daughters, and a one-year-old son. My weekends are mainly spent with them. My daughters and I recently made 15 salami together as Christmas presents for poor, unsuspecting family members. When I’m not with the kids or at work, I try to play sport, particularly cricket, although it seems I am better suited to spectating these days!